MINNEAPOLIS — Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Assn., testified Wednesday at the antitrust trial against the league that one of the members of the owners' negotiating team compared pro football players to cattle on a ranch during 1987 contract talks.
Upshaw, testifying for the first time in the month-old trial, said that Tex Schramm, then the president of the Dallas Cowboys, told him there would not be free agency in the NFL even if the players remained on teams for 30 years.
"He said the players are like cattle and the owners are ranchers and the owners can always get more cattle," Upshaw recalled.
Judge David Doty ordered that Upshaw's comment be stricken from the record after NFL lawyers protested. Doty said the remark was potentially inflammatory.
NFL lawyers then requested a mistrial, which the judge denied. It was the third mistrial request by the league since the proceedings started.
Later, the NFL released a copy of a 1987 story from Newsday in which the "cattle" and "ranchers" quote was attributed to Upshaw, not Schramm.
"Gene said it himself to the media," NFL spokesman Greg Aliello charged.
Eight players are suing the NFL on antitrust grounds after the collapse of contract negotiations in 1987. A players' strike that year left the league without a collective bargaining agreement and eventually forced the NFLPA to abandon its collective bargaining in favor of a court-oriented strategy.
Upshaw said he favored total free agency after a player's contract expired. NFL lawyer Frank Rothman said that was a change from 1981 testimony, when Upshaw said the baseball free agency system was not a goal for football players.